San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard left Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in the third quarter with a left ankle sprain. He did not return, and the Golden State Warriors took advantage of his absence to rally for a 113-111 victory over the Spurs.
Leonard made a 3-pointer and turned to run back down the court when his ankle got caught on the leg of a teammate on the bench. He ran back down the court gingerly and tested it at the next dead ball.
Later in the third quarter, Warriors’ Zaza Pachulia ran into Leonard while he was shooting. Leonard landed on Pachulia’s foot:
That was the final straw. Leonard headed back to the locker room leaning on a trainer after that play. The Warriors went on an 18-0 run after Leonard checked out of the game.
After the game, Leonard said he did not think Pachulia intended to injure him.
Kawhi told me he does not think the Zaza play was dirty. Said he was just contesting the shot.
— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) May 14, 2017
When asked about the incident, Pachulia said it is “really stupid” for anyone to think he stepped under Leonard on purpose.
“I did my part. Like I said, I had to challenge the shot especially [because] it was a handoff situation,” Pachulia said. “You saw my teammate was behind the screen so I had to challenge the shot. That’s what I did … I’m an athlete, too, so, I know how it feels and I don’t wish it to anybody, even though we are facing against them.”
Pachulia’s full comments are below:
Zaza Pachulia says of those who though the slid under Kawhi Leonard on purpose: "That's really stupid." pic.twitter.com/dKugk02Gkg
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 14, 2017
Leonard first hurt his ankle in Game 5 of the Spurs’ second-round series against the Houston Rockets. He sat out the clinching Game 6 of that series before returning Sunday.